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Posted by on May 23, 2016 | 92 comments

Top Things to See in Joshua Tree National Park

Many of you are familiar with the work of Dr. Seuss.  He gave us classics such as The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham and How the Grinch Stole Christmas.  His work has been translated to more than 20 languages and converted to movies, plays, etc.

Dr. Seuss’s furry, playful and mischievous characters inhabit imaginary worlds created by the author.  It has been said that if those characters would fit in any place on Earth, that place would be Joshua Tree National Park.

In a previous post, I wrote about the king of the Sonora Desert (at least, in the United States): the Saguaro cacti.  Well, turns out the Mojave Desert has its own ruler and that is the Joshua Tree.

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Tree National Park, California

The tree-like yucca reminded Mormon settlers of Joshua, with his extended arms, leading the Israelites into the Promised Land. The particular name prevailed over time.  The species thrives in the open grasslands of Queen Valley and Lost Horse Valley in Joshua Tree National Park. A dense Joshua tree forest also exists in the Mojave National Preserve.

Joshua trees can have many arms.  Those arms twist and turn in many ways.  Sometimes, the main trunk is the one that presents an odd curvature due to wind or water.  Then, there are hundreds of them in the park open areas.  It feels like an army of fluffy things is standing before you with all its weapons ready for battle.

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Tree National Park, California

In addition, the park stands out for the many boulders scattered throughout its extension.  The Joshua trees seem to be playing hide and seek with the thousands of boulders (in all sorts of shapes and sizes).

The park is located about 130 miles from Los Angeles.  If you get an early start, the main sights can be visited in a day. Driving the main park loops takes one to two hours.  If you are willing to do some shorts walks, you can get a very good grasp of the principal features in five to six hours.

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Here is a guide of the best spots to check out.

Hidden Valley

This one mile walk takes you to a rock-enclosed valley that once rumored to have been used by cattle rustlers.  If you chose to do only one walk in the park, this is the one.  I heard the rangers recommending this area to visitors over and over.  There are interpretative signs which help you learn about the Mojave Desert flora and fauna.

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Barker Dam

This is another one mile walk that takes you to a water tank (hence the name dam) built by cattle ranchers.  A cave and petroglyphs can be observed during the walk too. Plus, keep your eyes open since this is an ideal spot to observe bighorn sheep.

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Cap Rock

This is a big boulder with another small boulder hanging precariously from the top.  It looks like the big rock is wearing a cap.  I felt like the “cap” was going to fall at any moment.

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Keys View

The drive to this view passes through a valley densely populated with Joshua trees.  Once at the top, the Coachella Valley, the Salton Sea, Mt. San Jacinto and Mt. San Gorgonio can be observed.  Pollution is a problem in here (like in a lot of valleys where gases are enclosed).  It is best to stop here during sunset or sunrise.

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Saddle Rock and the Hall of Horrors

Saddle Rock is one of the most difficult climbs in the park.  Some people have died trying to get to the top.  My recommendation: observe it from afar.

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Just in front of the infamous rock, you are going to find an area scattered with a big number of boulders.  This is a favorite of those who love to climb (even without equipment).  I observed several people at the top.  And, yes, it looks like they free climbed.

Joshua Tree National Park, California

IMJoshua Tree National Park, California

Jumbo Rocks

This area has some of the biggest boulders in the park.  It is another favorite area of climbers.  Seems like it is easier to get to the top of the rocks without equipment in here.

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Also, this is where you are going to find one of the most famous landmarks in the park: Juniper and Balanced Rock (at campground #17).

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Skull Rock

As the name implies, this rock looks like a skull. It can be accessed from a 1.7 mile trail starting at the Jumbo Rocks campground or, you can drive directly to the base.

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Arch Rock

This short walk can be accessed from the White Tank Campground. This has to be one of my favorite areas in the park.  The natural arch is beautiful.  The best views are from the rocks directly in front of the arch.

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Tree National Park, California

The area is full of rocks in interesting shapes and colors.

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Cholla Cactus Garden

This is the place to see thousands of densely concentrated cholla cactus.  I was excited about walking around here but had to return to the car since bees were very aggressive on the trail (I feared an allergic reaction).

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Other Sights

The park has way more to offer.  With the help of the “Official Newspaper” and the rangers in the visitor’s center you can visit the following:

  • Cottonwood Spring
  • Hi-View
  • Indian Cove
  • Ryan Ranch
  • Tour of Keys Ranch
  • There are several moderate and challenging hikes in many of the park area.

What park feature you would like to visit?  Have you been to Joshua Tree National Park?

Pin it for later?

Top Things to See and Do in Joshua Tree National Park, California

The best things to see in Joshua Tree National Park.  Get prepared to be amazed!




  1. Amazing trees! And fabulous shots of the scenery.

    • Thanks! It is easy to take good pictures in a picturesque place like this.

    • You would like it since there are easy, moderate and strenuous hikes. You can pick the one you want to walk.

  2. I didn’t realize there was so much to see in Joshua Tree. The one time we were going to drive through Joshua Tree, we arrived late and it was dark. It looks like we’d need to arrive early in the day to see most of it.
    Rhonda recently posted..Visiting the Cruise Port of Puntarenas Costa RicaMy Profile

    • Right, an early arrival will work best. You can tour mostly in the car and do two to three easy walks.

    • Glad you liked them! This park is relatively close to where I live. I should visit more often.

  3. We really enjoyed this park last October while we were staying in Palm Springs.
    Jackie recently posted..WordlessMy Profile

    • We went to Palm Springs after we finished our sightseeing. it is a perfect day trip from any of the desert cities.

  4. Wow, I didn’t realize just how expansive Joshua Tree National Park is. If I ever get a chance to visit, I would definitely want to check out the views from Keys View.

    • yes, there are tons to see and do. You will not get bored in this park.

  5. Awesome photos, Ruth. Enjoyed reading about the park and hope to do the hidden valley walk one day. Thanks for sharing this at City Tripping.

    • Thanks Ahila! I really hope you have the opportunity to visit the park one day.

  6. Looks like a different world! Amazing finds! The skull looks almost real. Great to know about this park. Something new!
    Indrani recently posted..Wordless Wednesday – 378My Profile

    • It is true! it looks like something out of this planet. The skull rock is not easy to photograph. I am glad you caught the shape.

  7. Hello, awesome photos of the park. I would love to explore Joshua Tree! Thanks for sharing your visit. Enjoy your day and week ahead!

    • Eileen, this is a place you will enjoy a lot. Last time I visited, I saw a coyote.

  8. I’ve always been intrigued by Joshua trees. That was a very informative blog post. Definitely bookmarking this for future reference! Thanks for sharing.
    Buckeroomama recently posted..Bedtime…My Profile

    • It is amazing to see the “trees” in their natural habitat. Proof that the desert are full of interesting living forms.

  9. love this post, Ruth!! A friend of mine just visited Joshua Tree and raved about it! your pictures are awesome. It would be hard for me to pick out just one area to visit here! Skull rock looks so cool, but then again i love the uniqueness of the trees and the cacti.
    carrie recently posted..Strolling Through NOLA’s Garden DistrictMy Profile

    • The good things is that you do not have to chose what to see since everything I have presented here can be seen in one day. That is a great feature about visiting the park.

  10. This looks so cool! I didn’t know where the name for the Joshua tree came from, thanks for educating me on that! I love how many options there are for every kind of traveller. I’d be on for a medium sized hike, but there would be absolutely no free climbing for me. That sounds like a recipe for an airlift-direct-to-hospital type situation.
    Rachel ¦¦ A Nesting Nomad recently posted..My 30th birthday in SantoriniMy Profile

    • I am not interested in free climbing neither. But, you know how people are. They will get over those rocks no matter their level of expertise.

  11. What incredible skies – and I hadn’t realised where the name came from for the Joshua tree. Wonderful photos. Thanks for linking up with #citytripping
    Cathy (MummyTravels) recently posted..City Tripping #28My Profile

    • I almost, almost cancel my visit because the weather forecast said there were going to be thunderstorms and gray skies. I am grateful I went anyway (the weather forecast has been failing me a lot lately).

    • Great to know you visited! Each park is unique in a positive way.

    • You are not wrong about those rocks. It is difficult to capture the entire panorama, so, in here, it is difficult to see how the vast expanse is peppered with rocks. But, I can say the way the rocks are arranged in a very special way throughout the park.

  12. EXCELLENT photos! Brings back good memories from the times I have been there. (And it is a LONG way from Canada!)
    Electra recently posted..Alice In WonderlandMy Profile

    • That’s right! It is very far from Canada. However, it will we great to hit all the park in the West (both USA and Canada).

    • What I have in here can be seen in one day at a leisure pace. Now, you can add several hikes to the itinerary and extend your stay.

    • You are right! Instagram in particular is full of pictures of Joshua Tree. The area is a favorite of the hippie / hipster crowd.

  13. This is fantastic! I completely agree with you – Dr Seuss must have been dreaming of Joshua trees indeed. Your photos are gorgeous and as a trip to the States is only very many years in the future, I loved joining you on this.

    Joining you from #CityTripping
    Mandy recently posted..Retro Dining at Grosvenor Fish Bar, NorwichMy Profile

    • Thanks Mandy! We have a lot of gorgeous places here in the United States. I can spend my entire life visiting them.

  14. Hi Ruth,
    We’re planning a trip to Joshua Tree over the winter, which seems really far away, but I know it will sneak up on us so I’ve started to do a little research (good timing with your post). I had no idea Joshua Tree had such awesome rock formations. Did you by chance check out the campground?
    Tara recently posted..The Trip that Changed My LifeMy Profile

    • Like you said, winter seems faraway but it will be here faster than you think. There are several campgrounds in the park. Most of them are surrounded by the big boulders. So, it is interesting to stay there since you can explore the rocks once you are set up (and those spots are very popular during sunset).

  15. It looks like such a surreal and magical place. I can’t wait to visit. Someday. Great photo journey!

    • Thanks Sharon! You can see why this a favorite of Angelenos.

    • Great! we learn something new every day.

    • Nancy, you have no idea of how many times I stopped the car to take certain photos. The good think is that the park was empty the day we visited.

  16. I like this Joshua tree, with it’s hairy looking arms. The rocks are cool. I like the balancing rock and the jumbo rock. It was great that you captured the person at the base of Jumbo to show just how big the rock is. The blue sky really sets the scene for the rocks to pose against.
    budget jan recently posted..Plitvice Lakes blew our minds and questions are answeredMy Profile

    • Thanks Jan! For some reason, I like to take photos without people. But, I realize photos are more interesting with people in them.

    • Awesome! I love Saguaros (I have a post about them here in the blog). I visited Tucson last year and loved the area.

  17. 11 years living in LA and I never made it to Joshua Tree! It’s such an interesting area of California. I’ll have to leave this post for when I do visit it.
    Sadie recently posted..Photo Friday: Running GiraffeMy Profile

    • Yo have to go! It is an easy day trip or weekend trip. You will love it there.

    • Thanks Marcella! The day we visited was perfect. Very bright and a bit windy, so, it was not hot at all.

  18. I’ve heard such great things about Joshua Tree, but who knew there were so many things to see! Looks like you could really spend a lot of time in this park! I would definitely go see Keys View and SKull Rock looks awesome too! Great photos as always! Thanks for linking up for #WanderfulWednesday! 😀
    Lauren recently posted..36 Hours in San Pedro de AtacamaMy Profile

    • Lauren, I guess people post tons of photos of the Joshua Trees and maybe some boulders. But, the park has way more than that.

  19. I love Joshua Tree National Park. When my son was a student at Loma Linda University we used to hike there very often. Those rocks were fantastic in spring time. Later on, in summer, the area is way too hot for hiking or even visiting.
    Anda recently posted..Medieval Castles and Fortresses of TransylvaniaMy Profile

    • Right, I will not attempt to visit there in summer. It was still cool when I visited but lower elevations (Palm Springs) were burning.

  20. Incredible photos! It looks so surreal. Looks like you definitely need to bring a lot of water! The boulders remind me of Gorkhi-Terelj National Park in Mongolia, which is famous for its natural rock formations, except that this is well, a desert.
    Michelle | michwanderlust recently posted..Wining and Dining in the Shadow of VesuviusMy Profile

    • Thanks for mentioning the park in Mongolia. It is the first time I hear about it. Yes, water and food (none is sold in the park) are a must in Joshua Tree.

    • Thanks, appreciate your words.

  21. The desert comes alive in your photos. I always wondered how the Joshua Tree National Park looks like.

    • Well, now you have an idea how it looks. Hope you have the desire to visit now.

    • Thanks Paula! it is close to the big city but I think it has not been discovered by a lot of people.

    • The great are did were good because they were easy. Now, there are some that are strenuous for those who like that.

  22. I traveled through this park many years ago, before I had a blog and found it so interesting. I have to go back one day to see it again, Ruth. Your photos and commentary were excellent!
    Patricia recently posted..In the Merry Month of MayMy Profile

    • Thanks Patricia! Hope you can go back again. I went there 8 years ago for the first time. It felt great to be back.

  23. So very Dr Suess like – I love it! And I always associated the trees with Joshua Tree but I had no idea that there were views such as Keys View there. Love your photos and visiting Joshua Tree through your eyes!
    jill recently posted..Alaska’s Chilkat Bald Eagle PreserveMy Profile

    • The park is more varied than we think.

  24. Ruth, you did an exceptional job documenting JTree! Not sure how much time you spent there, but you managed to capture a lot of the highlights! I posted about a hike I took last weekend in the park. If you have a second, stop by and check it out!
    Peter recently posted..Desert Bighorn SheepMy Profile

    • Thanks Peter! I did take a look at your site. Loved the trail you took. Shows there is still a lot of places I have not seen in the park.

  25. I enjoyed your photos. I’ve wanted to visit Joshua Tree Park for a while now. We’ve driven close to it, but never close enough to make it a stop along the way.
    Donna Janke recently posted..Serene Luxury at Brewery Gulch InnMy Profile

    • There is so much to see in the surrounding areas. I understand how it feels being close to a place and then not being able to visit. Hope you make it there one day.

  26. Joshua Trees are so unique. I saw them when we drove out to the Grand Canyon from Las Vegas on a day trip in 2012 and I was immediately intrigued by them. Also those rocks are remarkable. Great photos!
    Kathy Marris recently posted..Kool & Kicked Back in KrabiMy Profile

    • Right, they are all scattered around the desert. The largest “forest” is in the Mojave National Preserve. I am hope I can visit that area soon.

  27. The Joshua Tree Park looks different planet, which reminds me of how little I know about the world. So interesting geology, topography and flora. Various different rock formations are awesome. Thank you for takins us around this park.


    • You are right. Sometimes we are used to our little corner of the world and we do not even realize what it is out there. I think that is why I love to travel and explore.

    • Mandy, the comparison to Dr. Seuss’s characters is inevitable. Those trees are so out of this world!

  28. Love that place. Was there several years ago. Your photography is scrumptious. My friend’s son was there “bouldering” so we drove in to see him. It was such a great and different landscape from anyplace else I’ve ever been. Thanks for this post.
    Sara Chapman in Seattle USA recently posted..Longwood Gardens waterlily poolMy Profile

    • This is a paradise for people who like climbing and bouldering. It is fun to stop and see people who are doing just that.

  29. I have been there years ago, it is just an unbelievable landscape ! I had never seen this before !

    • You are right, it is a beautiful place, full of surprises.

    • Thanks Rajesh! It is worth to go there.

  30. Wow!! Looks at those rocks! Love the formations.
    And Joshua Tree National Park is yet to be ticked off. I could use this guide. I’m pinning this post.

    Thanks, Ruth. 🙂

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